One of the biggest questions coming into the 2014 season for D.C. United was how their younger players would respond to the challenge of fighting for their spots on the roster and how they could adapt from 2013. On Sunday night Taylor Kemp and Luis Silva showed just what they learned, as the young duo helped snap a two-game losing streak and lead D.C. United over the Colorado Rapids 4-2.
At the beginning of the match, it appeared that both clubs were looking to get the early goal and gain the early advantage. With D.C. and Colorado entering the match on losing streaks, both clubs played with a sense of urgency. Colorado looked like they might draw first blood when in the fourth minute Rapids forward Deshorn Brown sprinted past Kemp and delivered a strong shot on target. However, D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid made the save.
Kemp would make up for his early miscue when in the 12th minute he stole the ball from the Rapids and delivered a pass in open space to United forward Luis Silva. Silva, with only Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin to beat, chipped the ball over Irwin to give D.C. the early 1-0 advantage. The goal was Silva's sixth of the season, a career high for the 25-year-old forward.
Beyond his first assist, Kemp played a critical role in matching the pace of Brown, the Rapids leading goal-scorer. Along with United center backs Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum, Kemp helped draw Brown into offside positions on numerous plays throughout the match and made a quality clearance in the 28th minute.
With the goal advantage, United started to put immense pressure on the Rapids attack. United midfielder Perry Kitchen led the high-press on the Rapids, which forced the club to move away from their main play-maker, midfielder Dillon Powers, at the point of attack. Instead, the club opted to build from their defensive back four which resulted them playing deep in their own territory and ceding United most of the field. Kitchen's tackle on surging Rapids defender Chris Klute in the 23rd minute emphasized the difficulty the Rapids had at getting beyond their defensive third early in the match.
On the other side of the pitch, United played a very aggressive style aimed at breaking down a a compact, resolute Rapids defense. This strategy was led by United forward Fabian Espindola, who appeared to be fully healed from the MCL strain that sidelined him for most of June and all of July. In the 26th minute it appeared that Espindola had a clear goal-scoring opportunity against Irwin. However the Rapids pulled an offside trap.
United would have another promising opportunity in the 33rd minute when the trio of Espindola, Silva, and midfielder Chris Rolfe were able to play off one another and make a deep run into the Rapids box. However, Rapids center back Jared Watt was able to separate the ball from Silva and force a goal kick. With the injury to Rapids center back Drew Moor in the 12th minute (knee sprain) Watt was asked to come into a match and hold back one of the top offenses in Major League Soccer. Despite this being Watt's first season in MLS, the rookie out of Wake Forest did an excellent job at holding back the United attack.
At the end of the first half, the Rapids began to make their move into United's territory. The club opted for a series of triangle plays between Brown, Powers, and Rapids midfielder Vicente Sanchez. The triangle play is aimed at getting defenders out of positioning by throwing two attackers into moving space. The play did its trick as both Brown and Sanchez found space deep into United territory. In the 36th minute, it appeared that Powers had found Brown in the box. But Kemp was there again to box out Brown and give Hamid the space necessary to collect the ball and end the play.
Colorado continued their pressure on the United defense early in the second half, still looking for the goal that would get them level. Brown was still finding space inside the United box and almost made them pay dearly in the 49th minute. However, his header off of a cross by Sanchez went over the bar.
The Rapids work on the United paid finally in the 52nd minute when midfielder Dillon Serna unleashed a laser of a shot past Hamid to give the Rapids their first goal in the match. The goal was Serna's third of the season.
United came close to getting the lead back in the 62nd minute when off of a quality run by De Leon, Silva hit a shot that appeared to give United their second goal. But Irwin made another quality save to deter United. Espindola's shot in the 56th minute also gave Rapids supporters a few gray hairs but it hit the cross-bar and was cleared away before any further damage could be done.
United finally found their breakthrough in the 66th minute when Silva finished off a great series of passes by Kitchen and United defender Sean Franklin to give him his second goal of the match. The goal was Silva's seventh of the season.
Not content with just two goals, United continued to pour on the pressure. In the 81st minute, Rolfe finished off a superb run by Kemp and delivered a low shot past Irwin to give him his fourth goal of the season. Espindola would cap off the scoring barrage in the 86th minute with a punishing strike past Irwin for his team-leading eighth goal of the season.
The Rapids were able to get one back in injury time when Powers' pass into the United box would find Brown, but his seventh goal of the season was not enough as the 4-2 result would hold.
With the victory, D.C. United (12-7-4, 40 points) moved to just two points of Eastern Conference leader Sporting Kansas City (12-6-6, 42 points), United will begin CONCACAF Champions League play on Wednesday night when they host Jamaican side Waterhouse F.C.
For the Colorado Rapids (8-9-6, 30 points,) with tonight's loss the club finds itself in seventh place having lost their last four matches. They will next play on Wednesday night as they will host the Los Angeles Galaxy.
D.C. UNITED-Bill Hamid, Taylor Kemp, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, Perry Kitchen, Chris Rolfe (David Estrada 84',) Davy Arnaud, Nick De Leon (Alex Caskey 87',) Luis Silva (Lewis Neal 73',) and Fabian Espindola.
Goals- Silva (12’, 62',) Rolfe (81',) and Espindola (86')
Yellow Cards- Arnaud (68',) and Kitchen (72')
COLORADO RAPIDS- Clint Irwin, Chris Klute, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor (Jared Watts 14’,) Marc Burch, Vincente Sanchez (Carlos Alvarez 59',) Jose Mari, Nick La Brocca, Dillon Serna (Gabriel Torres 73',) Dillon Powers, and Deshorn Brown.
Goals- Serna (53') and Brown (90+1')
Yellow Cards- Labrocca (3’,) and Chris Klute (43’)